A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns
Published: 2007
Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry the troubled and bitter Rasheed, who is thirty years her senior. Nearly two decades later, in a climate of growing unrest, tragedy strikes fifteen-year-old Laila, who must leave her home and join Mariam's unhappy household. Laila and Mariam are to find consolation in each other, their friendship to grow as deep as the bond between sisters, as strong as the ties between mother…

How can such a tragic story be so beautiful?  There were parts of this book that made me sick to my stomach to read.  There were also such beautiful parts of this book that hit me straight in the heart and made me weep.  Unfortunately, a general summary will not do this book justice, but hopefully it will inspire others to read it and engage in discussion.  There are plenty of discussion points throughout the book.

Set between the years 1960-2000, Mariam and Laila are two women living across the street from each other (and then later within the same house) in Afghanistan.  Mariam’s upbringing is heartbreaking, at best.  Her mother is not mentally well and, as she is the product of an illegitimate relationship, Mariam’s father is absent and unavailable.  In an arranged marriage with a man many years her senior (Rasheed), she moves into a house near Kabul and enters a life of one -sided devotion, fear, deprivation, and disappointment.  Her house is down the street from a young girl, Laila, whose childhood best friend is a young boy (Tariq).  As they grow, their relationship grows into a star crossed, teenage love tragedy when disaster strikes the city of Kabul and leaves their homes and street in literal ruins.  With nowhere to turn, Laila is taken as a second wife of Rasheed in hopes of producing a child which is something that Mariam has been unable to provide.  What begins as a relationship filled with jealousy and animosity turns into a deeply devoted friendship and sisterhood between the two women trapped in a destructive marriage with an abusive spouse that is not only legal but ignored by the Afghani government. As the stories of these women unfold, the reader is taken on an emotional roller coaster that keeps them on the edge of their seats anticipating the next twist or turn.  Just when the reader thinks all hope is lost, a glimmer of light in the darkness signals hope and promises of a better future.

  • Why I read it: Recommendation from a Facebook group
  • Trigger warnings: Violence, domestic abuse, infidelity, infertility

I was a sophomore in high school when the terror attacks on September 11, 2001 changed our world.  I had heard of Afghanistan.  I might have been able to locate it on a map.  I don’t think I knew the capital city.  Thanks to my amazing world geography teacher, I knew of Sunni and Shiite Muslims as opposing religious groups, but religious tensions across the globe weren’t on my list of daily concerns as an American teenager.  I was blissfully unaware of what life was like there for women.  9/11 changed everything and I, along with the rest of the world, became aware of injustices and tragedies from which Americans have long been shielded since the end of World War II.  This book made me think back to the days after 9/11 when I learned about the corrupt government leaders and the accepted laws that suppress and violate women in other countries.  It made me so grateful to be a woman in America where I have rights, freedom, and opportunities.

The author’s story telling is outstanding.  I was immediately drawn into the stories of these two women.  I felt big emotions.  I cried many times.  I became extremely angry.  I was shocked.  I was empathetic.  I was hopeful.  I was disappointed.  I was optimistic.  I think I said, “I can’t even imagine” out loud no less than 100 times while reading this book.  I finished the book with an overwhelming sense of gratefulness for being born a woman in America.  While I read it on my own, this would be an *amazing* book club read.  There is a lot to discuss.

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